“My heartfelt wish for you: As you get older – your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE . . . Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now.”
– George Saunders
I read a commencement speech today that moved me hugely. My friend, Jayne showed it to me. Thank you Jayne!
This commencement speech by George Saunders has simple advice to the graduating Class of 2013 of Syracuse University: Be kinder, and do it now. This speech moved me hugely, in a lot of ways. But the biggest impact it had on me was the first story he told, about what he regretted:
“But here’s something I do regret:
In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.
So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”
Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.
And then – they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.
One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.
End of story.
Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.
But still. It bothers me.”
The reason that story impacted me so strongly was because of something I did, it was 45 years ago, and I still regret it. A boy wrote me a poem when I was 9 or 10 years old. And I laughed at him, then I read it aloud to a group of my girl friends, and we all laughed at him together. I never forgot it. And when I remember it, I still get a knot in my throat and a pain in my heart, even all these years later. I can also still remember how I felt at that age, so uncomfortable in my own skin and afraid what others thought of me, that I looked for ways to fit in, and ridiculing others was one way I thought I would fit in better. But even at that age, I knew what I was doing was unkind and I felt horrible doing it.
Luckily for me, this man is now a friend of mine on Facebook. We don’t talk much, occasionally ‘like’ something the other has posted. But I say luckily because I was able to message him with the link to the speech, and make an apology, 45 years too late, but still better late than never. And this very kind man accepted the apology and we had a wonderful connection (well as wonderful a connection as one can have doing FB messaging.) Thank you William for your kindness and your willingness to forgive.
Please take the time to read the speech linked above, or you can even watch it on You Tube (although the quality is not great)
I also want to attach another You Tube clip, to help to remind us to Do It NOW. This is a 2 minute video about how we spend our time, starkly shown in Jelly Beans. Our life goes by so quickly and we spend it doing things we probably won’t remember (or perhaps remember with regret as George Saunders reminds us.) So spend your time wisely. Do things you love for people you love. And Be Kind. Be Love. Be it Now!
Thank you for taking the time to stop by, I appreciate it.